Living Bird Magazine
Brown ThrasherToxostoma rufum
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Mimidae
It can be tricky to glimpse a Brown Thrasher in a tangled mass of shrubbery, and once you do you may wonder how such a boldly patterned, gangly bird could stay so hidden. Brown Thrashers wear a somewhat severe expression thanks to their heavy, slightly downcurved bill and staring yellow eyes, and they are the only thrasher species east of Texas. Brown Thrashers are exuberant singers, with one of the largest repertoires of any North American songbird.More ID Info
Find This Bird
To find Brown Thrashers, keep your eyes and ears alert around tangled thickets, hedgerows or forest edges in central and eastern North America. Brown Thrashers are secretive, and hard to spot in their favorite spots under dense vegetation, but they can make a lot of noise as they rummage through the leaf litter. During spring and early summer, males climb higher to sing from exposed perches. Listen for a song with a pattern of a Northern Mockingbird, but with phrases repeated only in pairs rather than in triplets.
- Cuitlacoche Rojizo (Spanish)
- Moqueur roux (French)
Brown Thrashers may come to backyards if food is offered. Sometimes they visit feeders or the ground below to pick up fallen seed. There is a better chance they will visit if dense cover is close by. You can also attract them by planting shrubs that produce berries. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.
- Cool Facts
- An aggressive defender of its nest, the Brown Thrasher is known to strike people and dogs hard enough to draw blood.
- Brown Thrashers are accomplished songsters that may sing more than 1,100 different song types and include imitations of other birds, including Chuck-will’s-widows, Wood Thrushes, and Northern Flickers.
- At least one early naturalist thought the Brown Thrasher’s song was underappreciated, writing “Much of the [acclaim] which has fallen to the Mockingbird is really due to the unperceived efforts of the Brown Thrasher. It is the opinion of many ornithologists that the song… is richer, fuller, and definitely more melodious than that of polyglottis” (the Northern Mockingbird).
- Both males and females help incubate the eggs and feed the young. Nestlings sometimes leave the nest fully feathered within nine days of hatching—earlier than either of their smaller relatives, the Northern Mockingbird and Gray Catbird. Shrubby habitats are popular hideouts for nest predators, which may explain why the thrashers fledge so quickly for birds of their size.
- Brown Thrashers are the largest common host of parasitic Brown-headed Cowbirds. The thrashers do put up some resistance, often rejecting cowbird eggs that are laid in their nests.
- The Brown Thrasher is considered a short-distance migrant, but two individuals have been recorded in Europe: one in England and another in Germany.
- The oldest Brown Thrasher on record was at least 12 years, 10 months old, and was found in North Carolina.